ThaiHealth has 'conflicts of interest'

ThaiHealth has 'conflicts of interest'

Fund recipients call on OAG for fair probe

Health academics have backed the government's suggestion that the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) law be changed, criticising the foundation for disbursing funds in a way that could breach ethical principles.

The call came during a seminar on good governance and healthcare quality at the Department of Medicine, joined by health academics.

Arnond Sakworawich, lecturer of the National Institute of Development Administration's Graduate School of Applied Statistics, said ThaiHealth was run by health activists and experts on anti-drinking and smoking issues.

The problem is some committee members of ThaiHealth, which grants funds to other organisations, also hold positions in those organisations which leads to a conflict of interest, said Mr Arnond.

"Fund grantors should never be mixed with grantees," said Apiwat Mutirangura, a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of Chulalongkorn University. "This is an international principle and ThaiHealth needs to make some adjustments," he added.

In addition, four out of the seven members on the committee that evaluates the performance of ThaiHealth are former staff members of ThaiHealth. "So the credibility of the evaluation is also in question," said Mr Arnond, adding there are laws to prevent conflicts of interest.

The Administrative Procedure Act of Thailand prohibits officials from using their positions for their own benefit. On Tuesday, ThaiHealth's acting manager Supreeda Adulyanon claimed ThaiHealth received 4.7 out of 5 points for its evaluation undertaken by an independent board committee.

Mr Arnond believes the laws guiding ThaiHealth are too general, as its task is defined as improving and promoting the 'health status' of the population. "The definition of 'health status' is too broad, so the law should be amended," he said.

ThaiHealth -- which is financed by state taxes collected from alcohol and cigarette sales -- is accused of misusing funds, and is under investigation by the Public Health Ministry.

If the committee finds ThaiHealth broke the law, the case could be forwarded to the National Anti-Corruption Commission or the Central Administrative Court.

Meanwhile, 30 representatives of organisations which receive financial support from ThaiHealth have petitioned the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) for fairness in the case.

Kamron Chudetch, a representative of the group, said ThaiHealth has supported civic organisations for over a decade and fills gaps where the government sector falls short. According to the group, the investigation by the OAG was inaccurate and biased.

For example, one campaign by ThaiHealth, "Praying over New Year's Eve", has been called a misuse of funds. But it encourages people to go to the temple instead of going out drinking during the festival, according to Mr Kamron. The OAG has audited ThaiHealth for decades, and never raised any issue such as this one, he said.

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